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Newport Beach signs will encourage people to donate to charity rather than give to panhandlers

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A woman asks for donations where Newport Boulevard and West Coast Highway meet in Newport Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Newport Beach City Council agreed Tuesday night to craft an informational signage campaign aimed at discouraging people from giving money to panhandlers and encouraging them to instead direct their money to charities.

Immediately after the council’s lengthy discussion of moving forward with a potential homeless shelter at the city’s Superior Avenue public works yard, members approved the panhandling plan 6-0 after less than five minutes of comments. Councilman Marshall “Duffy” Duffield was absent.

The City Council’s decision Tuesday to refine plans and budget $300,000 for facility design to make storage structures at the yard at 592 Superior Ave. inhabitable came over objections from many area residents.

The campaign’s message could go up in locations that police have noted as high-profile spots for panhandlers: West Coast Highway at Dover Drive and Newport Boulevard, the driveway to Fashion Island off San Miguel Drive and the corner of San Miguel and San Joaquin Hills Road.

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Judges around the country have repeatedly found outright bans on panhandling unconstitutional. As an alternative, cities and counties in California and other states have introduced messaging campaigns encouraging organized charitable giving over individual handouts.

“We looked at other options that cities have pushed that go short of trying to ban someone’s First Amendment rights and instead we’re talking about encouraging people to be part of the solution that doesn’t involve giving money directly,” said Newport Beach Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill, who pitched the idea to the city’s homelessness task force earlier this month. He said the campaign isn’t punitive and that his anecdotal research shows such programs work.

Newport residents have approached the city with wide-ranging concerns about panhandling, including the safety of people walking in medians close to traffic, landscaping being trampled and what the money given is used for.

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